toronto activists are never go-ing to have an awards ceremony. If we did, we'd probably all go outside to protest it and try to block ourselves from getting in. But I know that all hardcore activists are, in their heart of hearts, glamour queens, so here's our chance to indulge. In typical activist fashion, let's start with the negative.
MOST SQUANDERED POTENTIAL: The anti-war movement (which reminds me, the most abused term of the year is "movement"). I'm more and more confused by the current anti-war bloc in Toronto, and the idea that we're going to stop war by going out in droves and marching -- in formation, with military precision, while chanting along with drill sergeants.
Maybe the idea is that if we all "1, 2, 3, 4, something something something war" together at just the right frequency, Bush's inner ear will burst and he'll lose his equilibrium (though it's arguable how much would change if that happened).
To watch peace-march marshals at work is to see a cadre concerned less with the safety of attendees than with trying frantically to keep control of a movement they presume to be theirs, at the cost of that movement's only weapon: its creativity.
Real movements reach into every corner of society, and they're as messy and idiosyncratic as the many kinds of people they encompass.
MOST INSPIRING ACTION: Starts with "Pope" and ends with "Squat.' Reminding everyone that most positive change in society happens in spite of government, not because of it. The good people at OCAP decided that it's easier to house people with a house than with housing reports. Aside from daring us all to abandon defeatist attitudes and actually, like OCAP says, fight to win, it also gave activists a taste of what it might be like to have a radical community from which to plan, hang out and inspire.
Its astounding four-month existence was an example we won't soon forget.
MY NEW FAVOURITE PEOPLE: The Urban Beautification Brigade. The first time I saw one of those big pebbled-cement urban tree planters painted bright blue, I laughed out loud. I don't know whether it was at the wonderful absurdity of the new colour or the quite deadly absurdity of the urban landscape it drew attention to, but the UBC has my undying gratitude for opening a dialogue with the cityscape that too many people have written off as impossible through anything but destruction.
MOST ANARCHISTIC EVENT MANY HARDCORE ANARCHISTS WOULD NEVER BE CAUGHT ATTENDING: The Om Festival. Everyone just helped everyone. They helped you find your tent, they helped you if you were hungry, they helped you if you were sad, they helped you if you wanted to know about political struggles in Colombia, they helped you if you sprained your ankle, they helped you if you were too high to take a piss properly, and, goddamn, they helped you if you wanted to shake your ass. But it was just a bunch of hippies, so rather than imagining what could happen if it were closer to the city, let's ignore it and go back to fostering the revolution through smoking and having meetings.
MOST IMPRESSIVE POLICE TRADE SHOW: Delegates to the 2002 provincial Tory convention, March 22 and 23, were also given the option of seeing their personal army in operation. Ultimately, none of them elected to stray too far from the catering table, but Toronto cops were more than eager to continue with the show nonetheless. The simulation of an actual riot was just not believable; couldn't those activists have made it look like they wanted to do something more than just march in the street or take over an abandoned building?
It's so hard to get good extras these days. But the demonstration of equipment against these easy targets was impressive: Cool toxic gas! Awesome riot shields! Shiny bikes! Nifty retractable batons! Ethically questionable electric-shock guns! Scary combat suits! Clever insults (imported from the NYPD)! Abused horses!
LEAST IMPRESSIVE POLICE TRADE SHOW: Preparing to protest the G8 in Ottawa was like preparing for a war one that never, thankfully, happened. Maybe it was the chance to frolic in the early summer rain with protestors that awoke a strange new love in the hearts of Ottawa police. More likely, though, cops simply realized no one had managed to actually organize anything other than a march, and decided to look good for the media.
They kept the riot squads around the corner, and instead of being thugs, they were just jerks. (They tried to steal the sound van when no one was looking! Was it their frosh week or something?) It was a welcome -- if embarrassing -- conclusion to the "We're all going to die" anxieties that led up to it all, and made me realize that when you take away all the cops-and-robbers bravado, most protests are just kind of stupid.
MOST INVIGORATING ACTION: Reclaim The Streets. The only thing better than stopping traffic with a protest is doing it with a party. The only thing better than raging against the city is laughing at it, because it doesn't know how to laugh back.
BEST JOB OF PUTTING YOUR ASS WHERE YOUR RHETORIC IS: North American activists -- more than one from Toronto -- who risked, and continue to risk the trip to occupied Palestine to witness, report, give medical assistance, putting the "active" back in "activism." These people all deserve a bubble bath.
BEST ACTIVISTS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE: A tie between everyone who does all the things in preparation for protests who never get any glory (billeting, food, legal support, medical support, space booking and other grunt work) and everyone who does activism that's not even recognized as activism (social workers, teachers, prisoner solidarity folks, women's shelter staff and people who actually bother to look each other in the eye on the subway.) In other words, all the real workers for change.